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UW's Cauce says fall classes will be in person, but it will be a 'new normal'

Elaine Thompson
Associated Press
UW President Ana Mari Cauce

Colleges and universities are conducting classes online right now to limit the spread of the coronavirus. They're also trying to plan for the fall.

University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce said the plan is to return to in-person instruction in the fall quarter. That comes after Washington State University President Kirk Schulz said WSU also will resume in-person instruction in the fall.

But Cauce said it will be a “new normal.”

“For example, some of our very largest lectures may be online for the lecture part of the class, but then will have smaller discussion sections held in person with social distancing,” Cauce said in an online town hall. She said she plans to give a more detailed plan about the fall quarter in late June or early July.

She said the university is relying on its School of Public Health and its Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases to help advise how to resume in-person classes. The university plans to do increased testing for COVID-19, as well as contact tracing to be able to spot any emerging outbreaks of the illness on campus, she said.

In addition, UW leaders said they’re bracing for big budget cuts and are planning ways to cut costs because of expected drops in revenue. The university will furlough a “limited” number of employees, Cauce said.

Provost Mark Richards said they're trying to prepare for the toll that the sharp economic downturn and soaring unemployment will have on the state budget, especially given the state's reliance on sales tax revenue.

“Add to that that higher education remains a discretionary part of the state budget, which leaves us particularly vulnerable in any economic crisis, and we have a huge amount of uncertainty,” Richards said.

He said they're expecting a budget update from the state in June.

UW stands to have large losses related to housing, food service, athletics and facilities, Richards said.

“We already know we’ll be looking at losses of a minimum of $50 million in the coming year and probably exceeding $100 million. That’s very different from previous crises,” Richards said. “Losses for UW Medicine are in the hundreds of millions of dollars with a great deal of uncertainty about what compensation may be available when the dust settles from this crisis.”

Richards said UW has stopped all non-essential hiring and spending.